June 4, 2006
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - It took extra innings, a solid pitching performance from Monica Abbott and a clutch two-run home run from freshman third baseman Jennifer Griffin for No. 5 Tennessee (60-11) to eliminate No. 9 Arizona State (53-15) from the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla., with a 3-1 (9 inn.) victory on Saturday, June 3. With the triumph, the Big Orange achieved the 60-win plateau for the second consecutive season and advance on to face No. 3 Arizona on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN. UT must defeat the Wildcats twice tomorrow (1 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET, if necessary) to advance into the best-of-three championship series.
Griffin led the way offensively for the eight-hit Lady Vol attack by
registering a 1-for-3, two RBI, one HR effort at the dish. Senior designated
player Kristi Durant was also 2-for-3 in the victory to support Abbott's
four-hit, one-run, 10 K performance in picking up her 43rd win of the
campaign. The double-digit strikeout effort was her fifth of the NCAA
Tournament and third consecutive in the WCWS. The Salinas, Calif., product
set down 11 UCLA hitters in a 4-3 upset of the top-ranked team in the country
on Thursday, before K'ing 15 in a 2-0 defeat to No. 11 Northwestern on Friday.
"This was an absolutely fantastic fast pitch game the type of game that you would expect to be played at this venue, at this time of year," said Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly. "I'm very proud of our kids and the way they fought. I was also proud of Arizona State. I thought they were very well coached. I'm an Arizona State graduate, but there's no question where my loyalty was today. But I thought they played fantastic. My hat's off to the kids wearing the orange. I thought they did a good job.
The match-up quickly devolved into a pitcher duel as neither team could mount a sustained offensive attack. The Lady Vols did manage the game's first hit as senior right fielder Katherine Card drove a one-out pitch up the middle in the top of the second inning against Arizona State hurler Katie Burkhart. She was left stranded as senior designated player Kristi Durant and sophomore catcher Shannon Doepking each grounded out.
Abbott was rolling along in the circle for UT with five K's through just two innings of work. She struck out the side in the bottom of the second.
Junior left fielder India Chiles managed Tennessee's second base runner of the contest by drawing a lead-off walk against Burkhart in the top of the fourth. Junior shortstop Lindsay Schutzler was called on to sacrifice the runner but popped up her bunt attempt to third to force Chiles to maintain her position at first. Sophomore first baseman Tonya Callahan went down swinging, but Chiles was going on the pitch and ended up sliding in safely at second to bestow UT its initial runner in scoring position. Card laced a hard rocket to short that ASU's Rhiannon Baca bobbled briefly before picking up the sphere. She recovered and found Chiles straying too far off second allowing Baca to make a solid throw to Mindy Cowles covering the bag to cut down the runner and conclude the inning.
Lead-off hitter Jessica Mapes garnered Arizona State's initial base knock of the match-up by ripping the first pitch she saw from Abbott up the middle in the bottom of the fourth. Center fielder Katie Cochran made it two consecutive singles with a grounder through the right side of the infield to improve ASU's situation to runners at first and second with no one retired. Following a visit by Tennessee pitching coach Marty McDaniel, Abbott easily handled a bouncer back to the circle by third baseman Bianca Cruz and threw on to third for a fielder's choice to retire Mapes for a very important first out. Freshman second baseman Liane Horiuchi handled the final two retirements to help UT escape a huge jam as Sun Devil clean-up hitter Mindy Cowles and Baca each popped out to second base.
Durant christened the top of the fifth frame with a hard single up the middle and was removed immediately for pinch runner Lillian Hammond. After a groundout by Doepking, pinch hitter Natalie Brock coerced a walk to improve the situation to first and second with one down. Pinch hitter Kortney Bell went down on strikes for out number two of the inning, but Fekete loaded the bases with a high bouncing single to third. Chiles drilled a shot back to the circle that Burkhart misplayed for an error allowing Hammond to tally the game 's first run. On the bobble Griffin also attempted to score but was thrown out at the dish by first baseman Kim Zadrozny to complete the inning with UT up 1-0. The Lady Vols were 50-2 entering today's contest when they scored before their opposition. The tally ended an 11-inning WCWS scoreless skein for the Big Orange dating back to the seventh frame against No. 1 UCLA.
With her strikeout of right fielder Michelle Smith to lead-off the bottom of the fifth frame, Abbott became the fourth pitcher in NCAA Division I softball history to cross the 1,700-strikeout plateau. Arizona State catcher Heidi Knabe seemed unimpressed at the feat by taking the first pitch she received from Abbott deep over the left field wall for a one-out solo home run to deadlock the game at 1-1.
Equal on the scoreboard once again, ASU's Burkhart exerted her own brand of control from the circle by striking out the side, for the second time in the match-up, in the top of the sixth for nine total K's in the contest.
For the second consecutive at-bat in the game, Mapes led off an inning by reaching base after coercing a walk off Abbott to christen the bottom of the sixth. Abbott responded by striking out Cochran, inducing a pop-up to short by Cruz and forcing a fly ball to center by Cowles to waste the lead-off runner.
Durant picked up her second multi-hit game in the WCWS by ripping another single up the middle to open the seventh. Pinch runner Kenora Posey was summoned into the contest to run for Durant and advanced to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Doepking. Posey was stranded at second, however, as Griffin and Horiuchi went down swinging to give Burkhart 11 K's for the game venturing into Arizona State's final chance in regulation.
Baca flied out to Callahan at first for the initial ASU retirement in the bottom of the seventh. Pinch hitter Kristen Miller popped a ball up about 15 feet in the air toward third base. UT's Griffin came racing in and made a valiant dive after the ball but came up just short allowing Miller to reach first safely with a single. Zadrozny lined a hard shot to short that Schutzler nabbed for the second out of the frame to bring up Knabe. She hit a home run off Abbott in the fifth, but lifted a pop-up to second base, this at-bat, that Horiuchi squeezed to grant the large crowd in attendance extra softball.
With one retired in the top of the eighth, the Tennessee speed game began playing dividends as Chiles slapped a bouncer to second and beat the throw down to first to give UT a base runner. Schutzler attempted to sacrifice Chiles to second and ended up beating out the play to grant the Big Orange a pair on base with one down. Callahan was retired on strikes for the fourth time in the game against Burkhart for the second out. Card worked the count from down 0-2 to 3-2 before being K'ed to end the inning.
Abbott kept the game tied at 1-1 through eight full frames by inducing a groundout by Vasquez, striking out Mapes for her eighth punch out of the game and inducing a fly ball by Cochran that Card chased down in right center field.
Now in the game as the designated player because Durant's substitutions had been exhausted, Posey reached safely on a lead-off single to third to grant the Lady Vols a much needed base runner. After a flyout by Doepking, Griffin blasted the first NCAA Tournament home run of her brief career by hammering a two-run shot deep over the left center field wall to grant UT a 3-1 advantage. Horiuchi reached first on an error by second baseman Cowles, but attempting to advance up 60 feet on the throw, was gunned down at second. Fekete drew a walk, but Chiles was called out for having the ball strike her in fair territory to complete the inning.
With the Sun Devils facing their last chance in the bottom of the eighth, Abbott struck out Cruz and Cowles before forcing Baca to foul out to Callahan just outside of first to secure the win and send UT on to battle Arizona for the right to advance to the WCWS Championship Series.
The No. 5 Lady Vols will meet the No. 3 Arizona Wildcats at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 4 in an elimination game live on ESPN. If Tennessee emerges victorious from the first match-up, the two teams will square off in a second contest at 7 p.m. ET. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com, and periodic updates will be posted on the Lady Vol Hotline at (865) 974-8700 (box #6).